People in Britain will be able to buy Covid-19 vaccines for the first time this year, with a pharmacy service company announcing it will offer the shots in England and Scotland no later than April.
So far, the vaccines have only been available through the country’s public health system, which has given them out for free to different groups of the population at different stages of the pandemic.
Pharmadoctor, which will offer advertising, supply and digital support to community pharmacies, says it’s targeting the millions of people under 65 “left with no way of protecting themselves by vaccination against Covid.”
Eligibility for free shots varied throughout the pandemic, with people more likely to experience severe Covid-19 prioritised ahead of the general population.
Periodic booster shots have largely been offered to people aged over 65 and to those with particular health concerns. This free campaign is expected to continue.
But soon, private customers will be able to purchase shots of Novovax’s updated Nuvaxovid XBB.1.5 vaccine.
Public booster campaigns in the U.K. typically use vaccines from Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines.
Community pharmacies who’ve signed up for Pharmadoctor’s service will offer doses of Nuvaxovid XBB.1.5 from $57 (£45).
This is more expensive than seasonal flu shots, which usually cost less than $25 (£20) at high street pharmacies.
But it is cheaper than might have been expected. The U.S. list price for Nuvaxovid XBB.1.5 is $130 a dose, according to Reuters.
Most U.S. adults still have access to free shots through private health insurance, Medicaid and Medicare, however.
Although Pharmadoctor is the first company in the U.K. to announce it will offer the shots privately, large retail pharmacies like Boots and Superdrug have said they’re investigating ways to sell the vaccine.
In January, health minister Maria Caulfield told the country’s Parliament that the government was “supportive of the emergence of a private market” for Covid-19 shots, but that it would not allow vaccines earmarked for the National Health Service to be sold.
“Currently Covid-19 vaccines are not available privately but as is the case for many other vaccines, manufacturers and providers are able to set up a private market alongside the NHS offer when they consider this viable and appropriate,” she said.
At the time of writing, 28 pharmacies have signed up to Pharmadoctor’s service, but the company says it expects thousands to get on board.
Chief executive Graham Thoms told The Guardian: “Over the coming weeks, as pharmacists come on board to offer the service, the network will build and we expect it to mirror the private flu service which we support thousands of pharmacies to offer each year.”
Founder and digital director, Joaquim Pereira, said the company’s service would help provide public health insights, in addition to helping pharmacies deliver the shots.
Pharmadoctor’s software, he said, “will generate rich data insights” which can be shared anonymously “with public health organisations so that they have a clear picture of private Covid vaccinations in their area of the country and on a national level.”
Superintendent pharmacist Mayhar Nickko-amiry, who owns Scotland’s Dears Pharmacy and Travel Clinic Group, said in a statement that her team were “delighted” to be able to tell patients they could now get a private Covid-19 shot.
“Patients ask us all the time when Covid jabs are going to be available privately,” she said.